By Melisa Luymes
This week, I gave the land acknowledgement to kick off an online event. I spoke about the history of Luymes Farms land, just outside of Moorefield.
And it was uncomfortable.
The history of First Nations is …wait, before I start, is First Nations the right word to be using? Is it politically correct these days or will I get flak? First Nations doesn’t include Metis or Inuit, so is there a better word? Some have told me I should speak of the individual bands themselves (oh shoot, can I say bands?) and not make sweeping generalizations about all the nations that lived (and still live!) here.
I guess the first reason I was uncomfortable is that I said it wrong. But whatever. This is too important to stop just because I have some awkward feelings about it.
Anyways, what I was saying is that history of First Nations is … sad. As a warm-blooded human and proud Canadian, it is alarming to learn about our history and what treatment the British and then Canadian governments gave to Indigenous peoples through the years, how we “depopulated” North America with guns, germs, and laws.
This history is not theirs, it is ours. It is our history to own. And when I start to think that my Dutch heritage gets me off the hook here … darn it, the Dutch were doing all this too, in what would later be called New York, Suriname, South Africa and Indonesia … just to name a few.
The next reason I’m uncomfortable is that when I’m looking for information on this history, most of what is easily accessible was written by white people. I wade through the bias about First Nations written into every paragraph of our history books: either demonizing them as savages or idealizing them as peaceful victims.
I dug deeper and I found some excellent books written by Indigenous authors. Much of their narratives describe their lived experiences and recent history, revolving around the trauma of the federal residential school system (1876 -1970s), which took 150,000 children from their homes and attempted to erase the histories and cultures of this continent.
But I finally found it – an interactive map of the province from Indigenous Affairs Ontario broken out by treaty area, with a typed transcript of each treaty. (See Ontario.ca/page/map-ontario-treaties-and-reserves to find your area!)
The treaty areas of The Rural Voice readership look like five pieces of a pie that all come to Arthur. Wellington North is (generally) the headwaters of a few major watersheds. I once heard that, since rivers were the highways of old, the headwaters areas were strategic for trade but vulnerable for settlement and agriculture. The area we now farm was a neutral area for hunting (and portages) while the protected settlements were further downstream in the Grand (or, as the Mohawk called it, O:se Kenhionhata:tie, Willow River). That’s why I won’t find much more than arrowheads in our fields.
I live within the Huron Tract (Treaty 29) which was 2.2 million acres of Aamjiwnaang land (whom the British called Chippewa) that was sold and signed by Anishinabek chiefs in Amherstburg in 1827. Chief Joshua Wawanash was one of them (that name might sound familiar). The tract is a triangle (ish) from Goderich down to Sarnia, then north of London to Arthur; it generally includes the St. Clair, Upper Thames, Ausable Bayfield and Maitland watersheds.
The Huron Treaty effectively sold 99 per cent of the land to the Crown for 1100 pounds a year (which was $10/person for the 440 people left), and the remaining land was for four reserves: Kettle Point, Stony Point, Aamjiwnaang (Sarnia) and the last was in Moore Township.
After two decades of settlers squatting on the Moore land, it was ceded in 1843.
In 1911, the Indian Act was changed to allow for reservation land to be expropriated for the greater good of the area or if it was near a city of more than 8,000 people. The City of Sarnia threatened to expropriate Aamjiwnaang in 1919… but it is still there.
In 1942, the Canadian government used the War Measures Act to expropriate part of the Stony Point reserve (including an ancestral grave site) for a military training base, with the promise to return it after the war was over. After the war, the Chippewa petitioned to have it back. In 1993, they marched to Ottawa, and their 1995 occupation of Ipperwash resulted in the shooting of Dudley George. After an inquiry from 2004 to 2007, the Canadian government agreed to transition the land back to the Stony Point First Nation, which it finally did in 2016.
I’m writing this here because I don’t recall ever hearing this story when people talk about Ipperwash. This part of Canada’s history isn’t told when we complain about protests or free university tuition.
“How do we live and farm as good treaty people?” the Ecological Farmers of Ontario ask. The question still makes me uncomfortable. I’m still overwhelmed by the bigness of the issue and the smallness of me.
As I pulled this land acknowledgment together, I was disappointed at the amount of research I had to do for it (so much!). And this is just the beginning of learning. I’m grateful to the First Nations who are working to recover their history, language and culture. I love this land and I want to restore the health of it and all the relationships with it. I finally see the relationship I have with the Chippewa nation and want to make sure that all of us in the Huron Treaty area keep our promises to them.
I believe it is important to go out of our way to learn and tell these histories and that is why land acknowledgements are important. ◊